Total Miles: 2377.4
From a distance, the mountains are beginning to show the early signs of autumn. Mixed amid the pervasive evergreens, the leaves of the huckleberry bushes are now mostly bright red with the occasional tinge of yellow, giving the forest a prototypical pop of fall color. Not only that, but each time we think we’ve seen the last of the berries, we’re proven wrong yet again. The huckleberry bushes are flush with ripe fruit, with many berries growing to the size of a large marble.
Many of the huckleberry patches that distracted us with berry picking were the result of another common Pacific Northwest phenomenon: clear cutting. Like a patchwork quilt stretching for miles across seemingly randomly selected portions of sometimes impossibly steep slopes, clear cuts are one of my first memories of Washington when I moved to Seattle for graduate school in 2004. Though presumably serving a practical and necessary purpose, I remember being struck by their size, frequency, and the random pattern of their perimeters. Here, in a landscape thick with giant trees, large swaths of them had been laid low. It seemed oddly arbitrary and utterly devastating to these unfortunate tracts.
It was this initial impression I’ve thought back to several times in the past week as the trail has routinely crossed through clear cut after clear cut in the large portions of land that are not protected within a wilderness area in this part of the state. And where there are clear cuts, there are roads. Lots and lots of roads. In his fantastic and entertaining book about the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson discusses at length the history of the US Forest Service, focusing on its particular talent for one thing over all else: road building.
Though perhaps not quite the country roads that John Denver was singing about, by the time we crossed our 21st road for the day, it was hard to avoid thinking back on the US Forest Service’s legacy of building roads. Ranging from level gravel to rutted jeep track to long since overgrown, it’s easy to get a sense not only for how extensive the network of forest roads in this country is but for how long the practice of building roads simply to access stands of timber stretches back into our nation’s history. For better or worse, that history was on full display today–yet another thought-provoking part of the PCT experience.